Why is this happening? State government neighbourhood sell-off
Resident groups in Millers Point and The Rocks are protesting the state government’s plans to sell more than 300 homes. The public housing sell-off is widely considered a sell-out with regard to community and heritage values. The announcement by Community Services Minister Pru Goward to evict an entire community has bought disparate groups together, along with many concerned residents and citizens.
On Saturday March 22 two local meetings were held to gather expressions of concern and plans for action. Lord Mayor Clover Moore and Alex Greenwich MP hosted one meeting. A smaller meeting earlier in the day was hosted by Tanya Plibersek MP. Shadow Minister for Housing Sophie Costas and local ALP members attended both meetings and the signs are good that there will be improved co-operation across political divides.
In a recent email to REDWatch members, Geoff Turnbull commented on the need for unity: “If there is to be a chance of a successful campaign, groups will need to work together and politicians will need to be restrained in how they play politics around the campaign,” Mr Turnbull said. The tenants have a Facebook page and an online petition.
A number of peak bodies and service providers (Redfern Legal Service, Shelter NSW, The Tenants Union) spoke at the larger meeting. Inner Sydney Regional Council will also be looking to see what role it can play to stop the evictions.
SOME OF THE KEY ISSUES ARE:
Social Impact Assessment
The Land and Housing Corporation (LAHC) promised that the Social Impact Assessment would be shown to tenants before any decisions were made. The Millers Point Social Impact Assessment was released after the announcement, along with the government response. REDWatch advises that LAHC has a fundamental conflict and should not have carriage of community engagement with its own tenants around redevelopment issues.
The government response
Regarding redevelopment in Redfern, LAHC argued in favour of social mix for
affordable housing, but in the response on Millers Point under Goward it says it has no interest in affordable or aged housing.
Heritage and maintenance
If LAHC neglects ongoing maintenance needs, problems escalate and costs increase, especially for heritage properties. Some tenants believe that a number of things LAHC has said need to be done are excessive.
This building does not have maintenance issues. It is ideal for aging in place. Its “problem” is that it sits on very expensive real estate. The introduction of the principle that public housing should not be in an area where there is strong market demand is worrying. On this basis, much of the public housing in the inner city, eastern suburbs and the north shore could be sold because the proceeds could fund a greater number of housing units in a less desirable (and not so well-serviced) place.
The public housing black hole
With LAHC selling 2.5 housing units a day over the last ten years to pay the bills, it is unlikely that sales will translate into new housing. It is most likely to go the way of previous sales where it contributes to a net reduction of housing stock and pays the bills for running the system. This funding will only go to new housing if there is another source to cover the operating deficit.
Myths about public housing
The Tenants Union have a good piece on their blog about this aspect of the government announcement. Government conveniently forgets that the people in public housing are there because they put them there under a range of different arrangements. Some people are there because they have been workers and paid full rent all the time they were working and are now retired, others are there because they are young and with the multiple issues needed to qualify for public housing.
It will take longer to get off the waiting list for housing
The tenants to be moved out of Millers Point will be given priority in allocations. The impact will be that 400 people on the waiting list that would have been housed over the next two years will now not be housed because those houses will go to people already in public housing. Until the promised houses are built there will be 300 less public housing units for those on the waiting list.
Community and support networks
Public tenants, like everyone else, take time to put down roots and develop their community support groups. If you have little mobility and have been in an area a long time that is where your support network is. The announcement that everyone would be moved out was not just about the loss of homes but also about the loss of friendship and support networks – the loss of community. As public tenants made up such a large proportion of the area it is also about the wholesale change of the area’s character.
See page 4 and Editorial on page 9 for more on the housing sell-off. See also the REDWatch website, which includes material with broad implications for inner-city public housing.